Wednesday, June 11, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

The last week of session always seems to be a slugfest, and this year was no exception. Important matters go right down to the wire with each side of any dispute believing the other side will blink, especially on budgetary issues. This time, the news is overwhelmingly good for our beautiful part of the Lowcountry. In future columns, I will discuss details of what was funded, why it’s important, and how we managed to get it done for you.

For the last twelve years, my overarching goal has been to return a larger share of what we send to Columbia back to our area. These dollars support our local education, our natural resources, especially the May River and related estuarine systems, Waddell Mariculture Center and the great work they do, as well as roads and bridges that safely carry our residents and our visitors. This repatriation of local tax dollars has become more efficient as our delegation has become more experienced and more senior. My seat on House Ways and Means and Senator Tom Davis’ seat on Senate Finance certainly give us a leg up in this extremely competitive process. Also, knowing the rules and the process by which things are accomplished gives your Beaufort County delegation an impact well beyond what our raw population numbers would imply.

One of the things that came out of this latest session is, in my view, a greater inclination among South Carolina lawmakers to experiment with different technologies, some very old and some as new as today’s headlines. An example of the former is a law passed by the House 72 to 28 to allow farmers in our state to grow and sell industrial hemp. Although this plant is related to marijuana, it is not remotely psychoactive. It was grown in colonial times because it made strong fibers for cloth and rope. More recently, it has been used as a cheaper and more sustainable pulp source for paper, and a host of other products. Ten years ago, it would have been laughable to introduce such a bill in the South Carolina General Assembly, much less to expect a conservative governor to sign it.

In a related matter, we produced a bill, which the governor signed, that allows for research and certain medical uses of cannabis oil to treat a virulent form of epilepsy. Academic medical centers in our state are also authorized to conduct clinical trials to investigate the value of this non-psychoactive oil in the treatment of this heartrending malady.

Another experimental technology, approved and signed into law, has to do with a type of plastic wall, known as wave dissipation systems. These structures have shown great promise in fighting beach erosion, on ocean and river beaches. The wave dissipation systems are reusable and may present a more effective and immensely more cost effect way of dealing with erosion problems on our beaches.

Finally, I want to place something before you, and ask for your thoughts and your stories. After a number of conversations with my colleagues in the Republican Caucus, I am pretty sure there will be a number of medical marijuana bills submitted for the next session. As you may imagine, the House Republican Caucus is not a bunch of wild-eyed radicals. We are, however, folks who have confronted the grim specter of cancer in our families, or ourselves. I predict that next session, medical marijuana will be an issue of some seriousness. My brother Tommy succumbed to cancer very recently, so this is something personal for me. As always, when there are issues likely to stir up emotions, I always put them before you, the folks, for your wisdom and opinion. Please share your thoughts and stories with me. If your stories are not for attribution, just say so. Your thoughts will be submitted as evidence in subcommittee and committee, with the idea of perhaps using this natural substance to ameliorate the side effects of chemotherapy. I know you won’t disappoint.